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Sampson Juror Expresses Regret Over Split Verdict

In this 2004 file photo, Gary Lee Sampson, center, is escorted into Hillsborough County Superior Court in Nashua, New Hampshire. (Jim Cole/AP)
In this 2004 file photo, Gary Lee Sampson, center, is escorted into Hillsborough County Superior Court in Nashua, New Hampshire. (Jim Cole/AP)
This article is more than 6 years old.

The forewoman of the federal jury in Boston that last week sentenced Gary Lee Sampson to death says her only disappointment is that the jury did not impose two death penalties.

The jury instead reached a split verdict on Sampson, who admitted to killing two Massachusetts men after carjacking them in in separate incidents in July 2001. For the killing of college student Jonathan Rizzo, the jury sentenced Sampson to death. But for the killing of Philip McCloskey, Sampson got life without parole.

According to Tara Delmonico, the jury foreperson for the trial, the jury fell just short of a unanimous vote for death in McCloskey's murder.

Delmonico, a clinical social worker, mental health professional and young mother, says Sampson deserved a second death penalty for the killing of 69-year-old McCloskey, a good Samaritan who had stopped to give the hitchhiker a ride.

"It’s just not right, what happened to both of them," Delmonico said in a recent interview. "I know the end result is the same in terms of he got the death penalty and death trumps life, I understand that, but it still doesn’t feel good. It didn’t feel good hearing that read in the courtroom."

Delmonico says she and her fellow jurors can never unsee the things they saw during three months of trial in which they were transported back to a long ago killing spree that jumped three states and took the lives of three people they didn’t know but will never forget. Sampson was originally sentenced to death in 2003, but a judge overturned that sentence in 2011 after finding that a juror had lied about her background. (Sampson was also received a separate life sentence for the 2001 killing of Robert 'Eli' Whitney in New Hampshire.)

Delmonico cried with the mother of Jonathan Rizzo, who took the stand, and she still cries for her.

"I wish I could hug Mary. They broke my heart. Just, like, now it’s so raw," Delmonico said. "Mrs. Rizzo, she just, oh my God, I’ll never forget how I felt listening to her. As a mom, it really hit me. I have a little boy and I can’t imagine having the courage and the  strength to do what she did in that courtroom."

Delmonico says she was surprised to find herself gradually leaning in a direction she hadn't imagined.

"I was looking for anything to give me a little bit of a reason why I wouldn’t vote for the death penalty ... and I couldn’t find it. I couldn’t find it."

Tara Delmonico

"I was looking for anything to give me a little bit of a reason why I wouldn’t vote for the death penalty," Delmonico said. "I looked and I looked and I looked again ... and I couldn’t find it. I couldn’t find it."

Delmonico, a mental health professional, says she believes Sampson was mentally ill.

The jurors agreed Sampson had an anti-social personality disorder. They agreed with the defense that he suffered from mild traumatic brain injury or TBI. They were sympathetic as well to other circumstances in his life. But they rejected out of hand the defense claim that so-called impairments, like mental illness and TBI, were responsible for Sampson’s conduct and crimes.

"It wasn’t his impairments. This was a person who is narcissistic and egocentric to the core. That’s what drove him," Delmonico said. "And that’s a rational choice that someone making a sound decision to behave in that manner. It wasn’t anything else."

The jurors saw Sampson as calculating and remorseless. Delmonico says Sampson's brief, emotionless statement that he was sorry left her cold.

When the verdict form asked if one or more jurors wanted to show mercy, Delmonico says she expected someone would raise their hand. "But nobody did," she said. "And I didn't."

They had looked and they had looked, she says, but they couldn’t find a reason for mercy.

The death penalty is advertised as something for the worst of the worst. Is Sampson the worst of the worst?

"Absolutely, absolutely," Delmonico said. "I think there’s not many people out there that it's appropriate for, but in this case absolutely, without a doubt. And I can say that confidently."

The forewoman says the jurors spent most of their time deliberating about the killing of Philip McCloskey. At first, she says, they all agreed it too deserved the death penalty. But the evidence of premeditation was not as clear as it had been in the killing of Jonathan Rizzo, who Sampson planned to murder from the time he got into Rizzo's car.

Now a doubt arose with regard to McCloskey's killing.

"There was some consideration that that was not a planned, heinous, meaningful act in that it just happened out of emotion, rage in the time, that it wasn’t planned," Delmonico recalled.

Then there was a holdout.

"It was not split," she said. "It was resoundingly on one extreme. We were very close to having that be a death penalty sentence and it wasn’t."

Feeling they had done all they could, she says, the jurors returned their verdicts.

Death trumps life. One verdict to take his life would have to do, Delmonico says, though she and almost all the rest of the jury wanted two.

This segment aired on January 20, 2017.


David Boeri Twitter Senior Reporter
Now retired, David Boeri was a senior reporter at WBUR.



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